Friday, February 21, 2020

Musical with a magnificent

May 13. 2019
The much-loved musical “The Lion King” comes to Bangkok’s Ratchadalai Theatre in September. /Photo by Matthew Murphy
The much-loved musical “The Lion King” comes to Bangkok’s Ratchadalai Theatre in September. /Photo by Matthew Murphy
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The world's most popular production - "The Lion King" drops into Bangkok

There's plenty to look forward for the young and the young-at-heart this year as the hit Disney-movie-turned-Broadway-musical “The Lion King” finally comes to Bangkok. It’s being brought here by Scenario and BEC Tero and will start its run on September 14 at Muangthai Ratchadalai Theatre.

“The Lion King” has been one of the most popular stage musicals in the world since its premiere on November 13, 1997 with 25 global productions seen by more than 95 million people Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, it is the only show in history to generate six productions worldwide running 15 or more years. Performed in eight different languages from Japanese to German, and Korean to Portuguese, productions of “The Lion King” nine productions are currently running across the globe. 

Scenario’s Takonkiet Viravan watched the musical back in 1997 on Broadway. At that time, “The Lion King” was being hailed as establishing a new level of artistry for musical theatre thanks to staging, costumes, and choreography reminiscent of the vast savannahs of Africa and its distinctive animal characters. 

“I’d watched the animation but had no idea how it would look on stage. Like every other member of the audience, I was thrilled by every scene,” says the musical director.

Back then Takonkiet was busy making TV dramas and had yet to fulfil his dream of producing stage plays. “Three or four years later, I had the idea of bringing the show to Thailand and that was well before I opened the Ratchadalai Theatre,” says the director, who finally opened his own venue in 2007.

The stunning choreography and costumes bring the lionesses alive/Photo by Joan Marcus


But despite all his successes in the intervening years, Takonkiet has never given up on bringing the musical to Thailand. 

“They kept telling me that it was so expensive. They would say ‘don’t ask how much you will get from it but how much you will lose’,” says the director, who laid the groundwork by bringing two classic musicals, “Miss Saigon” and “The Phantom of the Opera”. 

“It’s a show that gathers and adapts all kinds of artistic performance. It’s not just about acting, singing and dancing but also encompasses puppetry, masks and shadow puppet,” he says of the production, 

Based on the 1994 Disney animation of the same name and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The Lion King” is the story of the lion cub Simba who is next in line to be king of the Pride Lands, a thriving and a beautiful region in the African savannah. When Simba’s father Mufasa is killed by his uncle Scar, Simba has to run away. He makes friends with Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog and later returns to save the animals in Pride Land from his vicious uncle Scar. The musical also features classic songs from the film such as “Circle of Life”, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”.

The international production that will play in Thailand is currently on tour in Asia and will stop in Manila, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan before coming to Bangkok.

The main character Simba will be played by young British actor Jordan Shaw who joined the production in March, his first on an international stage. Shaw started training when he was six years old and says seeing “The Lion King” inspired him to become an actor.

“I saw the show three times and each time was a different experience, I was able to absorb different information and appreciate things differently so when I got the job, it took me a while to believe it. It has completely changed my life,” says the actor, who is currently on stage with the show in Busan.

From left: Jordan Shaw, who plays Simba, music director Mike Schaperclaus, Mrazi and Kunene./Photo courtesy of BEC Tero


One of the principal characters is the shaman Rafiki. In the original animation, Rafiki was a male but the character morphed into a female Rafiki when director Julie Taymor brought it to the stage. Inspired by a sangoma, a type of South African faith healer who can channel ancestral spirits, the character is always played by a South African actress as Rafiki has to sing and talk in South Africa’s native languages. Language plays a huge role in the show because it’s what makes it authentic and this is especially true for Rafiki, who serves as the show’s narrator. The character opens the production with the Zulu song “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba”, which calls for the audience’s attention.

For the upcoming Bangkok production, Rafiki is played by South African actress Zodwa Mrasi, a veteran of the role having played the shamam in the Spanish-language version in Mexico. Amanda Kunene, who also hails from South Africa, plays Nala’, Simba’s lioness partner 

“I auditioned twice, the first time when I was still young. ‘The Lion King’ doesn’t teach you only about self-growth and losing a parent, it speaks to all ages,” says Mrasi. 

Puppetry and shadow puppets are used to present all kinds of animals in the musical./Photo by Joan Marcus

When “The Lion King” made its debut in 1997, the original director Julie Taymor came up with the idea of using puppet design and masks, placing the latter atop the actors’ heads. She said at that time that she was inspired by her experiences in Indonesia, where she lived for four years. And while the puppetry goes back to centuries-old styles from Japan and Indonesia as well as Thailand’s Nang Talung or shadow puppet, the masks are based on traditional African mask work. The costume design is factored around the choreography and turns the actors into a variety of animals from lions to giraffes and zebras all through the 150-minute show.

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